The logo of an infrastructure group Atlantia is seen outside their headquarters, in Rome, Italy October 5, 2020.
The logo of an infrastructure group Atlantia is seen outside their headquarters, in Rome, Italy October 5, 2020. Reuters / Guglielmo Mangiapane

Global Infrastructure Partners and Brookfield Infrastructure pitched a possible takeover of Italian road and airport operator Atlantia last week after talks with its main shareholder, the two funds said.

Shares in Atlantia, which has a market capitalisation of over 16 billion euros ($17.5 billion), surged 10% on Thursday as the company finds itself caught in a potential bidding war also involving the Benetton family and Florentino Perez, president of Real Madrid soccer club.

The two funds, which special in infrastructure investments, confirmed they met the Benetton family's Edizione on March 3 and 23 and presented the proposal to Edizione on March 30. Edizione owns 33% of Atlantia.

The funds have an agreement with Perez's ACS under which the Spanish construction company could acquire a majority stake in Atlantia's toll road concessions if any offer was completed.

But the Benetton family, investment fund Blackstone and other long-time Atlantia investors such as Italian banking foundation CRT are studying a counter-move to buy the company, three sources with knowledge of the matter said late on Wednesday.

GIP and Brookfield cautioned that they might not make a bid for a company which has an enterprise value of more than 45 billion euros once debt is factored in.

"At this stage, the consortium has not taken any decision on a possible offer for Atlantia and no agreements with Atlantia and/or its shareholder(s) have been reached," they said in an overnight statement.

They could meet strong resistance from the Benetton clan, who have broadened their investments beyond the clothing lines for which they are best known.

Alessandro Benetton was appointed chairman of Edizione this year, tightening the family's grip on its investments. Edizione said at the time it deemed its investment in Atlantia to be strategic.

Perez and the Benettons are already linked through their joint ownership of Spanish highway operator Abertis.

Through ACS, Perez previously pursued a bid for Atlantia's Italian motorway unit Autostrade per l'Italia but did not manage to secure the backing of the Italian government.

Atlantia eventually sold the unit, the focal point of a dispute with the government following a deadly collapse of a bridge in 2018, to Italian state lender CDP and allies. It is due to pocket 8 billion euros from the deal this year.

($1 = 0.9163 euros)